Estwick: Agricultural Sector Needs Overhaul

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Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick

The local agricultural sector needs a radical overhaul if it is to be brought in line with the current international environment and become competitive.

This is the view of Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Dr. David Estwick, who said in its present form Barbados’ agricultural sector was stymied and constrained; based on a model that emphasised the production of food for export with little grown for local consumption.

He was speaking to members of the new National Agricultural Commission, who convened their first meeting last Friday at the Ministry of Agriculture, Graeme Hall, Christ Church.

Dr. Estwick, therefore, challenged the Commission to come up with a new platform which would aid in the development of the sector; develop a level of competiveness; and save valuable foreign exchange by way of increasing local production while allowing farmers to make a comfortable living.

According to him, there was great potential for growth in the sector, particularly if an effective transition was made from a mainly agrarian focus to a food and agriculture sector.

One way this could work, Dr. Estwick posited, was to explore deeper inter-sectoral linkages such as with the tourism and hospitality industry, manufacturing, and small business, among others.

"I believe we can make agriculture a viable and even greater contributor to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It has been stuck at 3.5 to 3.7 per cent in its GDP contribution for the last 15 years…For too long there has been a view that agriculture is dead or dying but… I believe we can make the sector a vibrant, financially viable entity," he maintained.

The Agriculture Minister also suggested that the Commission look at the type of fruits and vegetables which could be grown in Barbados to a competitive advantage, thus decreasing the amount of foreign exchange spent on importation.

Newly appointed Chairman and prominent agriculturalist, Dr. Chelston Brathwaite, echoed the sentiments of Dr. Estwick, adding that an overhaul to the sector was long overdue since Barbados was operating a model inherited from the pre-independence period.

"That model has run its course. We have changed education, health, [and] our infrastructure but we have not changed the agricultural sector…We have a sector which uses the majority of our land, producing some 50 million dollars of exports and 500 million dollars of food is imported…Something is very wrong with that model," he lamented.????????????????

Dr. Brathwaite stressed that Barbados needed a new building block for its economic development, and the agricultural sector could not do this alone.

He, too, posited the need for a food and agriculture sector which would require effective management, leadership, technology and resources to prosper.

??According to him, Barbadians must escape the perception of agriculture as a "fork and hoe" industry, but view it as a potential business activity which could earn this country valuable foreign exchange.

"Are we doing enough to support local farmers or farmers elsewhere? The sector has the greatest potential but we have to redefine it as a business sector…saving valuable exchange rather than spending it," Dr. Brathwaite stressed.

The new National Agricultural Commission took up duties on November 1, 2011 and is expected to serve for three years, until October 31, 2014.

Its mandate is to advise the Minister of Agriculture on critical policy issues which are relevant to the development of agriculture and assist in policy implementation.

andre.skeete@barbados.gov.bb

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